When the first issue of Afterlife with Archie hit store shelves last October, it introduced readers to the dark side of the Archieverse. Sure, there have been strange happenings in Riverdale before (such as those chronicled in the past and present iterations of the Life with Archie book), but never before have “America’s Typical Teenager” and his pals been forced to deal with life-or-death issues on a constant basis. In Afterlife with Archie, the stakes are as high as the body count, resulting in the most surprising and compelling book in Archie history.
What could have been yet another attempt to cash in on the current zombie zeitgiest has turned into a smartly written teen dramedy that just so happens to be set against the backdrop of the end of the world. The book can be described as The Walking Dead set in Riverdale, but really, it’s so much more. Expertly mixing laughs and chills, writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa has made Archie and his cohorts behave like real teens, complete with all the requisite angsts and desires thereof. So when the terror begins to unfurl, the gang’s reactions seem surprisingly realistic given the absurdity of their situation…and indeed the premise of the comic in general, which is perhaps best described as an episode of My So-Called Life directed by George Romero.
As great as the writing is, what makes the book transcendent is Francesco Francavilla’s art. We more or less have Francavilla to thank for this series’ existence, as a zombie-themed variant cover for Life with Archie inspired Aguirre-Sacasa to want to make a full-blown Archie horror comic. Francavilla’s stunning art pays tribute to artists like Wally Wood (whose EC Comics work helped define the horror comic genre) and portrays Archie in a realistic manner that puts the company’s own “New Look Series” experiment of a few years ago to shame. Within his Halloween-colored panels exists a Riverdale of fear and darkness that will probably inspire more than one grad student to write a thesis on how the comic is a metaphor for the death of the suburban dream. Together, the team of Aguirre-Sacasa and Francavilla have created a title whose potential is a seemingly unstoppable as the zombie horde featured within its pages.
Since the third issue of Afterlife with Archie was just released, today’s Daily List will bring you up to speed with the 10 best things about the first three issues. Spoilers abound here, but if anything the revelation of some of these secrets will probably just entice you to check out the comic even more. Let the hamburger/people eating commence!
10) The “Afterwords with Archie” Letters Page
Aside from the bizarre Fan Club News updates (in which readers submitted everything from vacation recaps to poems about Jughead) that appeared in their various comics throughout the years, Archie has never had a proper letters page in one of their books. Until now. Overseen by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa himself, the Afterwords with Archie page is a decidedly old school forum for people to mail or e-mail their thoughts about the ongoing storyline.
Like the similiar “From the Vault” section that reprints stories from the short-lived Chilling Adventures in Sorcery comic – a horror title originally hosted by Sabrina before being folded into Archie’s Red Circle imprint for the remainder of its run that is featured at the end of each ALWA issue – the letters page is a nice bit of extra content that is the closest thing to Blu-ray special features that a comic can have. Not including the excellent Afterlife with Archie app that is. Everyone can complain or compliment a comic on social media, but it takes a certain kind of fanboy to take their thoughts right to the source. That Archie has provided readers this kind of interaction with the book’s creative team is just another indication of how committed they are to hearing feedback and making Afterlife with Archie achieve its full potential.
9) An Unrelenting Sense of Dread
I applaud Afterlife with Archie for resisting the urge to crib The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’s tagline of “Who Will Survive and What Will Be Left of Them?” in the above teaser for the third issue. You see throughout the story so far there have been many homages to classic horror films. The only thing in greater supply than sly references is that absolutely unrelenting sense of dread. The very first thing readers see upon opening the first issue are the words “this is how the end of the world begins” written in blood. So yeah, there’s not much time for antics with Mr. Lodge or at the Choklit Shoppe like in traditional Archie fare. Which is not at all a bad thing…
8) Reggie the Remorseful Sociopath
Whether trying to get one over on Jughead or trying to steal Veronica away from Archie, Reggie Mantle has always been a total asshole. So while the current Life with Archie series has mostly been focused on redeeming the character, Afterlife with Archie is moving in the opposite direction by exploring Reggie’s sociopathic tendencies. By killing Hot Dog in a hit-and-run, Reggie is the unwitting catalyst that kicks off the end of the world.(At the time of the accident, Reggie was speeding away from a violent encounter with Moose, though the exact sordid details of what he tried with Midge have yet to be revealed).
In the first issue, his guilt becomes so overwhelming that he attempts to confess his crimes to Archie. However, his emotional unpacking is interrupted by the arrival of a zombified Jughead. It will be interesting to see whether the zombie crisis forces Reggie to get his shit together and find the hero within or just entirely give in to his scumbag nature. Though given the complexity of how Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa is writing the character so far, Reggie’s future is likely littered with many shades of gray as opposed to a simple black-and-white path.
7) Betty and Veronica: Frenemies
In the usual Archie comics, Betty and Veronica maintain a steady friendship despite their constant vying for their red-headed suitor’s attention. Their bickering was always wholesome before. That’s so not the case in Afterlife with Archie. Through dialogue that wouldn’t be out of place in Heathers, the characters constantly are at each others throats, giving the comics a realistic edge. You can see an example of this above, but it is in the third issue where the pair’s complex relationship really begins to reveal itself. Deciding to fend off whatever hell is breaking loose outside by staying in Mr. Lodge’s heavily fortified mansion, Betty chooses to escape from the chaos by reading a first edition of The Great Gatsby while Veronica throws an “End of the World” pool party for the rest of their friends.
But then something unexpected happens, Veronica arrives in the library to unleash some bitchy quips upon Betty that relay the underlying truth that she is so terrified that she truly needs her more sensible friend. It’s a subtle moment in a series whose big action sequences threaten to overshadow the smaller personal interactions that really make the book – and the relationships within – feel real.
6) Whatever is Going on with Jason and Cheryl Blossom
The previously one-dimensional Jason and Cheryl Blossom just got a hell of a lot more interesting. Admittedly, the hinting of them having incestuous relations teeters on the verge of being just a bit too cheap. But here’s the thing: as a longtime Archie fan, I have never before cared about these characters. The potential of these two pairing up romantically positively reeks of General Hospital-level silliness, but who cares. They are finally are more than just spoiled rich kids. I’m anxious to see what sudsy fates befall these characters as they realize the world they’ve known is now gone forever.
5) Dilton Figures It Out
Ever the genius, Dilton Doiley realizes what is going on right away. So it’s just a matter of time before Dilton’s scientific curiosity gets the best of him and he begins to attempt to find a cure. This is where things can get potentially very exciting. Will Dilton maintain his level-headed exterior and be able to do his research detached from the chaos that surrounds him? Or will he turn into Riverdale’s equivalent of Dr. Logan from Day of the Dead, a man who loses his humanity in the pursuit of science? Given the creative team’s shared love for horror films, my money is on the latter. One thing is for certain, given the popularity of Afterlife with Archie thus far, there won’t be any easy solution for the zombie problem anytime soon. Oh man, I hope he keeps Jughead zombie as a pet. Speaking of which…
The ballsiest move in the comic so far is the first-issue death of Jughead. As anyone familiar with Samm Schwartz’s work with the character will be quick to point out, Jughead is a smart, mischievous schemer of a character who is more than just about hating girls and loving food. To remove such a loyal and beloved character from the action right away by killing him creates a creative void in the story that will be difficult to fill.
The brilliant joke at work here is that zombie Jughead is just as hungry as his human counterpart, just for brains as opposed to burgers. It’s a great gag, but it remains to be seen how the death of Forsythe P. Jones will ultimately effect the story at large. The fact that Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa would even attempt such a thing illustrates the daring nature of this project. For more of my thoughts on this, see the first entry on this list.
3) Ginger and Nancy’s Relationship
As a pointed contrast to the seemingly perfect life of Kevin Keller, the relationship between Ginger Lopez and Nancy Woods in Afterlife with Archie illustrates a more complicated take on the gay experience. In the mainstream Archie continuity, these characters have never been very developed. But here? Their stories are so compelling that you kind of wish the zombie mayhem would slow down a bit so that their subplot would have more time to develop.
You see, along with fighting off legions of community members who want to eat their brains, Ginger and Nancy struggle with issues like coming out of the closet and learning to love. They are also completely badass. In the third issue, Ginger and Nancy kill zombified versions of Jughead’s father and Pop Tate before torching the Choklit Shoppe and taking off on a motorcycle to attempt to rescue their families. It’s a cinematic moment that evokes Robert Rodriguez’s best work and achingly romantic as well. Whether or not Ginger and Nancy’s love is strong enough to survive the dangers that surround them… well, that’s another story entirely.
2) Hilda and Zelda
If you only know Sabrina’s aunts from the TGIF sitcom based on Archie’s “Teenage Witch,” you are in for a shock. The Hilda and Zelda of Afterlife with Archie are a mixture of mischief and malice. They’ve only appeared twice so far – once to banish Sabrina to a hellish limbo after she helped kickstart the zombie chaos that consumes Riverdale, and another time in flashback sequence in which they creepily predict that he child of Hermione and Hiram Lodge will be a girl – but they have already left quite the impact. It seems that these two are the traditional witches of your childhood nightmares whose normal appearance is just masking their sinister true selves.
I suspect that they may want the world to burn, and a confrontation between them and Sabrina will almost certainly be in the cards a few issues from now. This is pure speculation on my part, but there’s no way that these two aren’t going to take on more evil roles as the story advances.
1) The Body Count
Spoiler alert! Hot Dog. Jughead. Jughead’s parents. Mr. Weatherbee. Ms. Grundy. Big Ethel. Big Moose. Midge. Vegas. So far all of these beloved characters – and Archie’s recently introduced dog -have fallen victim to Riverdale’s zombie apocalypse. These deaths (along with the fact that the second story cycle is called “R.I.P. Betty”) prove that Aguirre-Sacasa is trying to up the dramatic stakes. He’s not just picking off characters for shock value either. For the most part, the zombification of characters has been used as a tool to advance the story and build upon the increasing eeriness of each subsequent issue.
Afterlife with Archie’s main mission statement was to create a new type of Archie comic unlike any seen before. Mission accomplished. I can’t wait to see where things go from here.
Previously by Chris Cummins